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Indigenous Nationhood

Pamela Palmater's picture
Dr. Pamela D. Palmater is a Mi'kmaw lawyer and member of the Eel River Bar First Nation in New Brunswick. She teaches Indigenous law, politics and governance at Ryerson University and heads their Centre for Indigenous Governance.

Human Rights Museum or Harper propaganda? Genocide in Canada denied

| July 29, 2013

Canada has a dark history -- one which begins long before Confederation in 1867. The state of Canada, which was previously a British colony, was only made possible by the theft of Indigenous lands and resources, and the genocide of Indigenous peoples. While some government officials will admit that some of their laws and policies may have resulted in assimilation, you will never hear any of them speak of their elimination policies which resulted in genocide.

What is the difference between assimilation and elimination? Assimilation is when one group (usually the colonizing settler government) tries to force another group (Indigenous peoples) to abandon their culture, language, values, traditions, practices and beliefs for those of the colonizer. Policies like residential schools, resulted in the disruption and loss of Indigenous language and culture. This can and has resulted in inter-generational trauma in many Indigenous families, communities and Nations.

Elimination policies are much more direct. The scalping bounties issued in the Atlantic region for the scalps of Mi'kmaw men, women and children were meant to physically eliminate Mi'kmaw peoples. The distribution of smallpox blankets to Indigenous peoples were meant to physically eliminate Indigenous peoples through the ourposeful spread of a deadly disease. Similarly, the forced sterilization of Indigenous women in Canada without their knowledge and consent was also meant to eliminate any future population of Indigenous peoples. These are what have been called elimination policies.

Some will debate whether the residential school policy was a policy of assimilation or elimination, but I argue that it was both. The physical abuse for practicing one's culture is a form of forced assimilation; whereas the starvation, torture and medical experiments conducted on the children which resulted in upwards of 40% of the children dying, is elimination.

Whether it is assimilation or elimination, all of the acts fit under the definition of genocide as noted in the UN Convention Against Genocide.

Article 2 In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

-  (a) Killing members of the group;

-  (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

-  (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

-  (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

-  (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

(See: http://www.hrweb.org/legal/genocide.html)

If you look at any of the criteria, Canada has committed acts under each which can be defined as genocide. The colonizing governments have:

(a) purposely killed Indigenous peoples (smallpox blankets, residential schools, scalping bounties, starlight tours);

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2013/02/18/residential-schools-student-deaths.html

(b) have caused serious bodily harm (residential school torture, deaths and beatings in police custody, medical experiments in residential schools and in First Nation communities);

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/hungry-aboriginal-kids-adults-were-subject-of-nutritional-experiments-paper/article13246564/

(c) deliberately inflicted conditions meant to bring about death and illness (chronic under-funding of essential human needs like water, sanitation, housing, and food);

http://pi.library.yorku.ca/ojs/index.php/crsp/article/viewFile/35220/32057

(d) prevented births (forced sterilization of Indigenous women);

http://www.naho.ca/documents/naho/english/publications/DP_womens_health.pdf

(e) transferred children our of Indigenous communities (residential schools, massive 60's scoop where kids taken and adopted into non-Indigenous families,  current policy of child apprehensions);

http://www.originscanada.org/the-stolen-generation/

Thus, if the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights will not use the term genocide to describe what Canada has done to Indigenous peoples in Canada, then its own credibility will be called into question. A few staff members at the museum do not have the right decide how history will be presented. The grisly facts about Canada's treatment of Indigenous peoples is something that must be recognized and accepted if there is any hope of moving forward in a good way or at least in a way which does not repeat the atrocities of the past.

One does not have to look too far to find the real reason why the museum will not use the word genocide -- it is Crown corporation, i.e., an arm of the government. The museum staff are quoted as saying: "as a Crown corporation, it's important the museum's terminology align with that of the federal government." This Harper government's modus operandi is to control information, silence opposition and present propaganda instead of open, accountable fact-based reports.

http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/cmhr-rejects-genocide-for-native-policies-217061321.html

While the museum appears to be relying on the fact that Canada has refused to acknowledge that its policies against Indigenous peoples were genocide, they should also note that those governments and politicians who have committed genocide in other parts of the world never admitted their illegal activity either. Canada will never admit wrong-doing unless and until it is brought to justice. Even Canada's watered-down residential schools apology was quickly followed by a denial that any cultural genocide took place.

http://aptn.ca/pages/news/2011/10/27/residential-schools-saganashduncan-apologize/

There is little point in even opening this museum if its only purpose is to act as a propaganda machine for the federal government. We can expect little more than government-approved pictures, displays, and histories if even the terminology are going to be censored. Why waste all that money, when one could simply log on to the Harper government website and read the propaganda directly?

The continued denial of genocide in Canada, against the weight of much academic research and evidence, shows that Canada (the government) has no real interest in moving forward in a respectful relationship with Indigenous peoples. In fact, all of Harper's actions to date indicate a desire to go back in time and resurrect old assimilation policies. Perhaps this is the real reason why Harper does not want the museum to educate Canadians about the truth?

http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/pamela-palmater/2012/09/harpers-manifesto-erasing-canadas-indigenous-communities

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